Encouraging Health and Happiness

The Squat, Supercharged

From the Editors of Men’s Health
Thu, Sep 15, 2011


You know squats are essential. But they come in so many variations—how can you tell which one is right for you? We asked Chris Proulx, D.C., M.S., a professor of movement science at Westfield State University in Massachusetts, to help sort them out. Proulx and his students tested five different squats—the four freestanding versions shown below. Volunteers performed the exercises standing on force platforms, which are high-tech devices that measure the pressure exerted through a lifter’s feet. The researchers also attached electrodes to the volunteers’ legs to see how hard the moves made their quadriceps and hamstrings work. Their pain, your gain. Looking to master the move before trying one of the variations below? Then use The Secret to the Perfect Squat to perfect your technique.

Back squat

Best for…functional lower-body strength
Decades of sports science has correlated squat strength with speed, power, and athletic performance. With the back squat, you generate a lot of force through your leg muscles—so with practice, you’ll be able to squat a lot of weight.

Avoid if…you’ve had back pain or injury. The bar on your shoulders compresses your disks.

Force: 3 out of 4
Quadriceps: 1 out of 4
Hamstrings: 3 out of 4

Wide-stance squat

Best for…pure strength and lower-body muscle development
The wide stance brings your inner-thigh muscles into the exercise, allowing you to lift heavier weights and build muscle more quickly.

Avoid if…you have back or shoulder problems. The extra weight means extra challenge for the joints that have to support the weight. Instead, fight your aches with the best exercises for back pain.

Force: 4 out of 4
Quadriceps: 3 out of 4
Hamstrings: 2 out of 4

Bulgarian split squat

Best for…balance, quadriceps development, and fat loss
Because it works one leg at a time and requires more balance, you can’t use much weight. But you compensate by working your quads harder and doing twice as many reps per set.

Avoid if…you’re most interested in pure strength and power; you need heavier weights to achieve those goals.

Force: 1 out of 4
Quadriceps: 4 out of 4
Hamstrings: 1 out of 4

Front squat

Best for…core strength and lower-body muscle development
By placing the bar on the front of your shoulders, you force your torso to stay upright. This requires and builds both core strength and stability. To boost abdominal strength, try our 15-minute workout, Carve Your Core.

Avoid if…you have hip or abdominal injuries. With the bar balanced directly above those areas, you’ll be putting a lot of pressure on them.


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